Terese J. Singer

Wisconsin Court Holds That Court Has Discretion to Find Marriage Irretrievably Broken

Wisconsin is a no-fault divorce state, which means that a couple, or an individual, seeking a divorce do not have to prove to the court that there is any specific reason for the divorce, or that one party has committed any specific action that would justify the marriage ending. Instead, the parties can simply assert that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and there is no reason for it to continue.

In some cases, however, one partner may assert that the marriage has reached the point of no return, while the other may argue that the marriage can still be salvaged, and divorce is not the correct course of action. When this happens, the court must look at all of the information and factors available in determining whether to allow the divorce to move forward.

In a recent Wisconsin divorce case, Marriage of John v. Fritz-Klaus, Mr. John initiated divorce proceedings against Ms. Fritz-Klaus after they had been married for approximately five years. Mr. John told the court that they had been living apart for the last two months and that after an extensive period of trying to work through marital issues, the marriage was irretrievably broken and could not be fixed. In response, Ms. Fritz-Klaus told the court that she believed the marriage could be saved and that she wanted to work things out rather than pursue a divorce. She requested that the court allow the two parties to engage in counseling for a period of time before moving forward with the divorce. The court initially agreed and ordered Mr. John and Ms. Fritz-Klaus to attend counseling sessions together.

After several months of counseling, the parties had another pretrial hearing for the divorce. At that time, Ms. Fritz-Klaus explained that she wanted to continue counseling, but Mr. John represented that it was not successful. The court acknowledged Ms. Fritz-Klaus’ continued interest in saving the marriage but explained that the divorce proceedings had to continue in order to keep the case from languishing forever. It therefore set a trial date for six months later. Throughout the remainder of the continued proceedings, Ms. Fritz-Klaus continued to take the position that the marriage could be saved and that Mr. John could not show that it was in fact irretrievably broken. Eventually, the case proceeded to trial. Mr. John and Ms. Fritz-Klaus presented their arguments, and the court ultimately determined that the marriage was irretrievably broken and granted the divorce. Ms. Fritz-Klaus appealed.

On appeal, Ms. Fritz-Klaus argued that the court had erroneously granted the divorce because Mr. John had not actually provided evidence to show that the marriage had completely broken down. Pursuant to Wisconsin statute, Wisconsin does not require a divorcing party to prove that there was a specific reason for the divorce. Instead, in situations in which the parties have not been living apart for 12 months or more, and one party objects to the divorce, the court is required to evaluate all of the relevant information to determine whether reconciliation is possible or whether the divorce should be granted.

In this case, Mr. John testified that the marriage had fallen apart, largely due to financial issues, and that he did not see how it was possible that the spouses could be reconciled. He testified at length about the efforts to address the problems in the marriage, including extensive counseling, but explained that none of it had been successful. Here, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals found that this was sufficient to support a finding that the marriage was irretrievably broken. The court noted that case law had long established that the subjective perception of one party that the marriage cannot be reconciled is enough to justify a divorce, and Mr. John’s testimony alone was sufficient evidence to grant the divorce.

If you are considering divorce but are not on the same page with your partner about the need for divorce, or have unexpectedly been faced with divorce, you should discuss what is necessary to show that your marriage is irretrievably broken with an experienced Milwaukee divorce attorney as soon as possible. To speak with a knowledgeable divorce lawyer today, do not hesitate to contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP online or give us a call at 414-271-6400.

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